If you are going to the USA on a J1 visa – or any other type of visa – prepare to be amazed at the sheer size of the place. One thing that will strike Irish visitors is the open space, the wilderness. North America has some amazing cities. If you are going to the western USA, you can see Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Seattle, Portland or any number of other big cities. But you’ll find big cities all over the world. What makes the USA really magical is the great outdoors. There is nothing like throwing a tent in the boot of a car and hitting the open road in search of pure, primal Mother Nature. Here are a few spots that can transform your view of the outdoors.
- Yellowstone National Park – This is one of the most famous national parks in the USA for good reason. Ancient forests, rocky summits that look like the moon, Half Dome, bears – Yellowstone has it all. Plan to spend a few days there to take it in. And do follow the instructions on avoiding bears. Bears don’t think of you as food, but they do know you are a source of food. And they will rip the door off your car if they think they’ll find a good snack in there. Obey the rangers. They are not paranoid.
- The Redwoods – Northern California is dotted with smaller parks in the redwood forests that cover the top half of the state. Take your pick. They will be quieter than the superstar attractions, so you can have a more serene encounter with nature there. But do follow the rules about being in bear country. Keep your food and toiletries in the boot of the car. Bears can’t tell the difference between your sunblock cream and a yogurt until they taste it.
- The Grand Canyon – Okay, this is a no-brainer, but you can’t have a list of great spots in the western USA without it. Whether you take a helicopter tour or spend a week trekking through camping, it will be unforgettable. Words can’t do justice to the beauty or enormity of the Grand Canyon. You’ll spend the rest of your life kicking yourself if you miss the chance to see it.
- The Painted Desert/ Petrified Forest – Keep your camera handy and be grateful its digital and you can take a billion photos. The colours here are the west’s answer to New England’s trees in autumn. So gorgeous it’s surreal. Backcountry camping is free in the Petrified Forest National Park, and less hardcore options are available nearby.
- Crater Lake – Oregon has a lot of beauty spots, but Crater Lake is the most magical. The lake formed in the crater of a dormant volcano. Crater Lake isn’t as high profile as the other four sites here, but if you enjoy a tranquil early morning hike along the ridge overlooking the lake, you’ll be glad of that.
If you are an avid camper, you will love the American west. And if you have never been camping before, this is the time to try it. Westerners are serious about their camping, and you’ll see why. Follow the rules carefully. They exist for your safety as well as the safety of the whole area. Fires are a serious problem. Remember, things are drier there than in Ireland. It’s hard to believe the damage a bear can do to a car until you see the photos. Don’t tempt them.
If you are looking forward to some outdoor adventure while you are in the western USA, you might be wondering how to get your favourite gear there. The good news is that you don’t have to carry it with you on the flight. Spratt can ship it for you, saving you massive hassle in airports.